Tuscan-American Food Exchange

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Together with James Madison University (JMU), Eataly Firenze held an event this past Thursday night in their store on Via Martelli entitled “Tuscan-American Food Exchange.” The event included guided tastings of Tuscan and American food, but emphasized the differences between the two cultures. Although America represents multiple food traditions that have been introduced to the country by immigrants from countless places around the world, including Italians, hamburger buns served as the “American bread.”

JMU’s Francesca Passeri, professor of “Food Industry in Italy” and “Wine Culture” within the Florence Program, illustrated the history and differences of a variety of breads and their pairings compared to the United States. Both American and Tuscan students were in attendence.

Eataly believes that food is a good way to bring cultures together. In order to truly know a culture, you have to know the food specialties. They emphasized that they wanted American students to understand what “real” Italian food and culture is.

The first Eataly opened in Torino in 2007, and six years later Eataly Firenze opened its doors in December of 2013.

“We love food. We love the stories behind the people who produce it and the places it comes from,” shared Alessia Rossino, a representative of Eataly Firenze. It is important to educate the community on what is authentically Italian, because through their food choices they can influence the way food is produced and consumed at a local, and eventually much larger, scale.

Eataly is all about “Eat, Shop, Learn,” and through this event in collaboration with James Madison University and the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival in Florence they were able to relay this important message about food to up and coming Italian and American generations.

Click here to find out more about Eataly Firenze:

http://www.eataly.net/it_it/shop/?ref=goo_brand&gclid=CPKR6ZHIwMsCFTAz0wodGoYEwQ

And like them on Facebook!:

https://www.facebook.com/eatalyfirenze/?fref=ts

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Abigail Rupp, Consul General of USA in Florence

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March 9, 2016

Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival in Florence Opening Remarks

Before the opening event of the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival officially began, I had the privilege of speaking with Abigail Rupp, Consul General of the USA in Florence, and one of the Opening Remarks speakers in the Sala di Cinquecento. What a wonderful experience to attend a meeting in one of the most beautiful halls in Florence! I had to focus on not staring at the gorgeous ceiling when speakers were addressing the audience that filled the room.

Rupp kindly sat down with me and introduced herself, and agreed to answer a few questions. The Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival is an opportunity for American students to connect with locals, as she would mention in her remarks. But what can students do besides the festival to connect with Florentines and truly immerse themselves in the culture?

12814173_1083289831721261_262793366338710091_nOne way to make Italian friends easily, she began, is by doing the activities you do in America here as well. What are your interests? Do you volunteer in the United States? Do you play a sport? There are many opportunities to do the same things in Italy, and form friendships at the same time. They have had students in the past train with local soccer teams, or volunteer at local elementary and middle schools to help teach children English.

Another way is to travel through Italy on your own, without the help of a school or a travel agency. This advice struck a chord with me, as so many students I know are only traveling through an agency, and I have questioned whether or not these experiences allow students to truly experience, appriciate and understand a foreign or host country. I agreed with Rupp that it can be scary traveling on one’s own, but much more rewarding.

For students who can speak Italian, she recommends taking advantage of their ability to take classes directly in an Italian university, or going on tours of museums in Italian instead of English. In order to meet the locals, “you just have to push yourself.”

Rupp also gave advice on how to learn Italian. Of course, the state department taught her Italian, so it was basically her job for six months to become proficient in the language. She would practice Italian for five hours a day. So how does that experience relate to students learning the language? It underscores a very important point: one has to constantly use the language in order to become fluent.

Many students are afraid of making mistakes, and this keeps them from striking up a conversation. But Rupp believes that we must “allow ourselves to be children,” and not be afraid to make mistakes. It is hard to not know anything, but you should not be afraid of trying. “Even if you say it wrong, you still get practice.”

Other ways to practice are listening to the Italian radio, and watching Italian television. Even when you think you have mastered the language, never stop learning. Rupp has lived in Florence for a year and a half, but she still takes Italian grammar classes so that she can ask questions and practice.

12809577_1083289568387954_8065716649991096971_nThe festival focuses on connections through art, so naturally our conversation drifted towards the importance of art in her life. She was a ballerina during her time in school, which instilled in her a real discipline and a love of music and art. She feels lucky to watch performances, like the Florence Welcome Wave by the Florence Dance Academy, in an educated way.

Her first trip to Florence was as a high school student, and this trip was actually what inspired her to have an international career. The artwork that resonated with her the most during her stay was Michelangelo’s prisoners. She loved the ambiguity behind whether or not he intended to leave them unfinished, as well as the sense of movement exhibited by the statues.

Her experience in Florence so far has been different from her other stations because she was previously in developing countries, such as Ghana and Ethiopia. She has enjoyed working with Italy because of the strong partnership between the United States and Italy, and was happy to find out that she had the opportunity of living and working here for three years.

She believes that there is something uniquely special about Florence as well. It has been the center of revolutionary thought for so many centuries, which creates an atmosphere that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It is also an international city, not just a city of history.

According to Rupp, the first goal of the festival has already been achieved, which is simply to have it. This is the first time that the over 50 study abroad programs in Tuscany are working together to make the right impression about what American students are here to do. Students have the opportunity to interact with each other and the community. Rupp believes the festival is the perfect way to encourage exchange.

Pietro Manzo: Paintings and Drawings

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Pietro Manzo Painting

The walk to Pietro Manzo’s studio was far, but lovely because of the sunshine that has been hiding for the past week or so. Crossing the river from the historical center of Florence to the other side is one of my favorite things to do because of the beauty of the Arno. I slowly began to emerge from the busy and touristy areas to a quieter and authentic neighborhood. It was almost like entering a different city.

With Manzo’s assistance, I finally found the unassuming studio, tucked away in the simplistic beauty of the street. He kindly greeted me and led me into an empty room, save for a large painting currently in progress leaning against the wall and a couch. This space was the exact opposite of Baratti Bon’s studio piled high with works. A pencil drawing of a similar style rested on an easel next to the painting, outlining where the rest of the design intended to go. The white wall behind it was drenched in various colors of paint and even some drawn shapes. A somewhat hidden staircase led to a basement which held more paintings and a diptych with an interpretation of what appeared to be an abandoned urban environment.

Pietro Manzo explained that he is a painting teacher at Studio Art Centers International in Florence (SACI), and therefore able to be involved in the art exhibitions of the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival. He claimed to not be very proficient in English, but to me he spoke very well. I conducted the interview for half of the time in English and half of the time in Italian so that we could both practice. Manzo is actually currently a student at the British Institute, where he is taking a one-on-one course in English. When he studied in London and Finland, he also took English courses.

Since he is a professor for American students, I asked him whether or not this language barrier interferes with his ability to communicate with them. He answered that it is only when the students speak very quickly that he can’t understand them. However, when he teaches the techniques of the art, demonstration is the right way to communicate, whether he and the students speak the same language or not. But learning English is important to him, because learning another language “è un’altra porta al mondo,” another door to the world.

Muro IIIAbandonment and emptiness are common themes throughout the unique combinations of painting and sculpture that Pietro Manzo creates. There are never any people in his paintings, except for a small self portrait and a few other portraits he has done in the past on small squares that capture only the person’s face. His concepts are focused more on spaces rather than living subjects.

For example, one series of his is entitled the “Grand Tour.” However, Manzo’s version of the Grand Tour strays far from the beaten path of beautiful and historical Renaissance art and architecture. He captures interpretations of real abandoned places in Italy that were under construction and revitalization, but never finished. Manzo gives all of his attention to these empty places, the other side of the spectrum from the packed Grand Tour destinations. In its place he offers a Grand Tour of the other side of Italy, the forgotten side.

One of the pieces in this series, entitled “Souvenir,” is a postcard stand with paintings the size of post cards and made with aluminum. All of the pictures on the postcards are places under construction or abandoned because of the “many problems” Italy has, such as the mafia. Manzo claims that there are many places like this all over Italy, not just in Florence.

Manzo’s art is an interpretation or an evocation of reality, and never an exact copy of the real thing. In his studio, he had several pieces that were inspired by the same view, but they all look different because they are different representations and viewpoints. He likes to rebuild and reinvent when he paints; to lose himself while he is painting. In the process of painting he never plans what will happen next, he finds it. Manzo says that his work is a “continuous fight” between different mediums and colors, but an enjoyable one, because it gives him the opportunity to view reality in a different way.

He accomplishes this by going to these abandoned sites, and then using what he remembers to create the scene. By using a mental representation of what he remembers instead of painting on-site, Manzo’s art becomes an expression that reshapes the experience and makes it more personal.

The art on display for the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival is a series of small studies and sketches for larger scale works from the last two years on paper, metal and canvas. The drawings include a series of rooms and beds, empty of course, that he has slept in while traveling or visiting friends all over Italy, which he does quite often. All of these are done from memory, like the abandoned spaces, which will also be present at the Pietro Manzo art exhibition of his paintings and drawings from March 9 to 11 in the SACI Maidoff Gallery, on Via Sant’Egidio 14.

Florence American Cemetery and Memorial

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The streets of Florence can be cold, damp and dark in the winter, discouraging any outdoor exploration. Luckily, the sun gently pulsed warmth back into the city as I made my way to catch the bus with Laura Fenelli, a professor of Art History with many United States programs.

 

Even just the transportation to the cemetery and memorial was a true Italian experience for this American. I learned that you must hail the bus like a taxicab in order to for it to stop for you. Also, you must press a button on the bus in order for it to stop where you want to be let off. When Laura and I reached the stop for the second bus we needed to take, a bright white sheet of paper casually taped to the bus stop sign informed us that the bus we needed no longer stops there. Luckily, we made it to the next stop just in time! As we rode through Florence, Laura pointed out the moss-covered walls that comprised the original outer walls of the city, after they were destroyed to allow for public transportation. Gradually the city began to fade and the Tuscan hills began to rise around us. Lines of laundry were cast across classic yellow buildings with green shutters.

 

It is hard to imagine that hidden in the Tuscan valley is a 70-acre cemetery and memorial. The white cross headstones were visible as we exited the bus and headed towards the visitor’s center. The memorial was built by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which was easy to recognize by the white marble, extremely neat stone walkways, and clean-cut yet breathtaking scenery.

 

Unfortunately, we awkwardly interrupted a meeting. It was clear from the way that the men were sitting and dressed, as well as the way they carried themselves that they were veterans. One of them kindly stepped out and led us to a different office, where he rummaged around in some boxes until he retrieved a large pile of brochures in both English and Italian to offer visitors during the festival that provide some background information on World War II. He then handed Laura and I a map of the cemetery, but then had to head back to his meeting.

 

Laura and I were saved from attempting to guide ourselves through the cemetery by Fiorenzo Iacono, a tour guide, who looked as though he had just stepped out of the 1940s. His hair was neatly combed back, and he donned the classic brown leather jacket with a button-down blue shirt and a tan knit sweater over it.

 

Fiorenzo had just returned from giving a tour to a small group, but he still offered to show us around. He was so kind and eager to help us, and it was obvious that this Italian man loved his job. He kept stressing the importance of the emotional stories the tour guides share with visitors. We began the uphill ascent to the monument, and what struck me was the number of white crosses scattered in symmetrically curved rows across the neatly kept green hillside. To even reach the cemetery, there is a bridge that crosses the beautiful Greve River. Walking over the bridge leads to a separate, sacred space. Greve in Italian means oppressive and heavy, and that is how the atmosphere seemed to change near the burial sites of the soldiers. I also could not help but notice that greve is very similar to the English word “grieve,” as if the river was grieving for the 4,402 people buried in the hillside.

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Fiorenzo wanted to give an example to us of a personal, emotional story of one of them, so we followed him until he found the tombstone he was looking for:

 

A young man by the name of Richard C. Reed is buried at the cemetery, one of so many men who died during World War II. On July 2nd of this past year, 2015, a gardener for the cemetery found a card resting against Reed’s tombstone. He brought the card to the office, and everyone agreed that it was important to investigate. The letter was from Reed’s first girlfriend. She has since married again and had a family after his death, but she wrote that he had “all her love” for “all her life.” Fiorenzo was reading aloud from the actual card, and tears sprung to my eyes. My proximity to the real card, as well as the grave, was emotionally powerful.

 

Based on the dates, Reed’s girlfriend should have already passed away by the time the card was found. She could be very old, or she could have had someone make the journey for her and place the card on the tombstone of her true love. The card is not signed, but of course the employees at the cemetery did some research, and what they found was quite interesting. The back of the card indicates that it was purchased in Colorado Springs. Richard C. Reed was a member of the Mountain Division, because of Italy’s geography. The Mountain Division, as it turns out, trains in Colorado Springs.

 

This truly moving and powerful experience humanized the many white cross and star tombstones. Now that I am 20 years old, I realize it is just a matter of years between these men in the ground and my peers. If we had been born 70 years earlier, this would have been them in the ground. Richard C. Reed was a man with dreams, ambitions and a woman he wanted to return to.

 

0218161650Fiorenzo continued to the walls filled with the names of people whose bodies were never recovered. Standing next to the monument, I was again struck by the sheer number of dead, which is obviously only a small fraction representing the loss that World War II meant. There is also a wall with a map of Italy, indicating where the American and German troops invaded and travelled. Laura shared with us that her grandparents are from Parma, and had to flee because of the fighting, as Parma was basically the front line between the two sides. Fiorenzo liked these personal stories, and suggested that Laura share them during the tour. After this we entered into the adjoining chapel. The sun was setting, shining perfectly on the gold mosaic behind the altar. The image was not of the cross, but of a figure representing Remembrance standing on a cloud, holding in her arms the lilies of Resurrection. At her feet is a helmet resting on a sword. This image is very powerful, especially as it stands over both Christian and Jewish religious symbols.

 

We began to make our way down the hill in silence, overcome by the history. It was around closing time for the cemetery, and the flag was pulled to half-mast in front of us while taps played from behind the memorial. We all instinctually stopped in our tracks out of respect, and I began to cry for the beauty of the sinking sun behind the Tuscan hills and the lives of those young men.

 

As we headed back to the bus, I thanked Laura for the opportunity to work at the Tuscan Anglo American Festival in Florence. If I did not volunteer, I would never have even heard, let alone assisted with a tour, of this beautiful and moving memorial so close to where I live!

Video and Photo Survey of Architectural Masterpieces in Florence: Interview with Paola Giaconia

The Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival in Florence is an opportunity for American and British universities to open their doors to the fiorentini and demonstrate what it is exactly that these students do day to day in their studies here. When language can be a barrier between people, photography creates a third language through which American and British students can communicate their high regard for the city.

The “Video and Photo Survey of Architectural Masterpieces in Florence” exhibit in Palazzo Vettori, organized by Paola Giaconia, a Professor and Program Coordinator at Kent State University in Florence, will run from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. The photos and videos taken by these students is an opportunity for fiorentini to see their captivating city through an American perspective.

The intensive four-day summer program available through Kent allowed the students to observe architectural pieces in Florence more closely; observing not only the building but also the environment surrounding it. Since the program was only about a week, the focus was not on the technique but instead on representing what they observed. For example, the American students noticed through these observations that social use of space is different in Italy from the United States, which they were then able to portray in their work.

Giaconia praised the students for their enthusiasm and the extra time they put into the project. Without being asked, they went to an opera house at night that they had previously shot in the daylight to understand the difference in the atmosphere. The students were even there at dawn, catching the sunlight playing off of the façade. It was clear through their actions and excitement that they were in Florence to truly understand the city, not to pass through like tourists.

She was also impressed at how well put together the collection was, since none of the students had previous experience in video editing. The depth of observation in the display is truly outstanding, as the American students were willing to acquire a new mindset and learn more about what was around them.

Giaconia, as a professor for American students, notices the huge difference between the approach to architecture that American students have compared to Italian students. Although they are in the same field, the education in each country is very different. Italian architecture students have more of an extended analytical approach before they begin designing. In the United States, American students begin designing almost right away with less analytical analysis.

This can be attributed to the different locations of the students. There is so much ancient and medieval architecture that exists in Italy, and therefore Italian architecture students are taught to be extremely respectful of their surroundings. In America, oftentimes architecture students are working in suburbs without historical relevance, which allows them to proceed with a project with little analysis.

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The Professor of Architecture admires this boldness in American thinking. Giaconia observes that at times the Italian analytical process can go “out of control” to the point of over-thinking, which makes the students afraid to continue.

Giaconia studied at the Politecnico di Milano as an undergraduate, the city where she is from, and then went to the United States for her masters degree, where she continued to work for six years. Reflecting on her experiences in both countries, she found that architecture was more of a challenge in Italy because of all the red tape. Often, it is not possible to create something new in Italy because of the strict mindset that aims to protect the old. This is important, but Giaconia emphasized that Italy should not be “frozen in time.” Even Brunelleschi’s famous dome, a symbol of Florence and recognized by people all over the world, was not accepted at the time it was built because it seemed too extravagant to the people. Many Italian architects lament today that there is hardly any contemporary architecture in Florence, because many projects are denied. In Los Angeles, however, Giaconia noticed that it was the complete opposite. Even in Milan, there is a layering of architecture from the medieval times to the 19th century to now. But, she asks, “what happened in Florence since the medieval times?”

Many other European cities, such as Paris and Barcelona, have achieved this successful layering. They still have their medieval masterpieces, but also incorporate the new. It is not necessary to destroy the old, and if new masterpieces are not built in Florence then essentially it is a missed opportunity.

For example, years ago there was an international competition in which many talented architects from around the world were invited to create a new exit for the Uffizi museum. A Japanese architect, Arata Isozaki, won with a brilliant design, however it was put on hold for political reasons and still has not been implemented. Of course the architect was disappointed, but she remarked that Italians are used to their projects being blocked because of the strict mindset that exists.

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Florence has “endless potential,” and when American students with their bold and fresh ideas present what these possibilities are, then fiorentini themselves can understand what they are capable of. Giaconia posits that American students can be extremely creative because they are not held back by history. However, there are times in which she must mediate the boldness and stress that an architect has to be knowledgeable about the project.

When these cultures and perspectives are combined, however, Italian and American architect students would make a perfectly balanced team of boldness and analysis to create the masterpiece of their generation in Florence.

Traveling Stanzas: Interview with Nicoletta Peluffo

February 25, 2016

 

Nicoletta-e1413364007609Amid the endless downpour of rain and the gloominess of dark clouds recently gathering over Florence, Nicoletta Peluffo, the Language Program Coordinator, managed to find a bright warm room at Kent State University to speak with me about the literary event Traveling Stanzas. Both she and David Hassler, Director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University in the United States, are putting together this “multicultural project that aims at creating a global dialogue through the inclusive language of poetry.”

 

The mission statement itself is poetry, but I wanted to dig a little deeper into what it really means for not only the creators of the project, but the students involved. This wonderful project puts Italian elementary and middle school students from the Istituto Comprensivo La Pira outside of Florence in contact with Kent State University students through poetry readings.

 

Peluffo shared that the project began last September, and not only for the festival. Those in attendance of Traveling Stanzas on March 10 at 5:00 pm in Palazzo Vecchio will have the opportunity to experience a part of a larger movement that is working to break down the barrier of language all over the world. Italian children from Istituto Comprensivo La Pira will read their poems, some in Italian and some in English, and the President of Kent State University in the United States, Beverly Warren, will respond with her own poem via Skype. These works among others will eventually be compiled in a book and video.

 

All of the poems will follow a specific prompt fitting to the theme of the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival: Where Am I From? This prompt is based off of the beautiful poem by George Ella Lyon entitled “Where I’m From.” The 100 Italian children involved in the event will be answering the same question: “Da Dove Vengo?”

 

For someone who has been involved with the project Traveling Stanzas for a long time, I asked Peluffo why she thought poetry reading was a beneficial art form to share with the Florentine and American communities present at the festival for those three days. She responded by explaining that poetry could serve as a bridge to connect what she termed the “Tuscan reality” with the “AngloAmerican reality.” They are not only two different languages, but also two different mindsets, which can be united through the feeling and emotion that is emitted through more than just words when someone reads their poetry aloud for others.

 

Traveling Stanzas is also an important opportunity for the young Italian students involved, because it gives visibility to a school that is open to “multi-culturality.” The Istituto Comprensivo La Pira has many American college students volunteer to help teach simple English to their young Italian students every year. Their eyes light up and the atmosphere in the classroom changes when they have the possibility of learning English from a native speaker from a different country.

 

Although in some cases the language barrier between Americans and Italians is a problem, in the case of Traveling Stanzas it is an opportunity because “the communication is at a different level” that can only be achieved through art.

 

For example, Peluffo is currently translating Warren’s poem from English to Italian, but it is difficult because it was written within an “American reality,” or from an American perspective. There is a certain richness in the way words are used to create poetry that forces others to become open-minded in order to understand from a different point of view, especially when the author is a part of a different culture. The children wrote their poems within an “Italian reality,” so the words translated directly into English without taking into account their deeper meaning will not have the same effect on the listener.

 

Although she speaks perfect English, Peluffo is Italian and thus has an Italian mindset and perspective, which can make it difficult for her to translate a poem that an American wrote. But if she opens her mind and works with her American students, then she is able to see from the other perspective and understand the deeper meaning behind it. Her ability to gain perspective from American students is a beautiful example of the importance of the American presence in Florence. Working together to create art can provide insight into both cultures, and create an understanding that will eliminate negative stereotypes and allow the mindsets to blend together.

 

According to Peluffo, too often the students who choose to live and study in Florence are compared to “tourists.” She believes that they should be considered “travellers,” because they have chosen to stay in a different country with a different language. Tourists only stay for a short time, but travellers choose to stay for a long time in order to truly appreciate the city.

 

Peluffo also pointed out that Italian is not an easy language to learn, and even for those putting in effort before and during their stay the many verb tenses can be overwhelming to native English speakers. Yet even those students who do not speak English are in Florence to “admire and emphasize the beauty of the city. How could this be a bad thing to have foreigners promote your hometown?”

 

The ability to see through a different cultural perspective allows the community to understand differences and “challenge” each other to be open to “otherness.”

 

If you can’t make the event, don’t be too disappointed! There will be a video loop with readings of the poems playing in the Palazzo Vecchio during the festival.

Ornella Baratti Bon Paintings: Interview with the Artist

A month has already passed since my arrival in Florence. It is unbelievable how quickly the time is going. Walking through the streets of Florence feels familiar now, but luckily I have not lost the wonderful feeling of awe at everything I see so as to become deadened to the splendor of the city. Winding cobblestone streets slick with water from the recent rainfall, the wonderful smells of food and perfume, and beautiful earthy stone buildings with bright hanging plants formed the path to Ornella Baratti Bon’s studio space.

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The door swung open to reveal a short woman with short hair ornamented with traces of pink. With a large gesture of her arm she invited me in. Energy and liveliness shone from her eyes and her smile. I felt as though I was intruding into a private space, but she gladly displayed all of her paintings, as she was still in the process of selecting which works would be showcased at the festival. As she sorted through some of them, I felt like I was visiting the backstage of a play with the scenery and props before I even saw the production.

Baratti Bon did not speak English, but I was happy to conduct the interview in Italian. Her voice was just as full of expression and vitality as she was, so I could follow her easily. She lives and works in Florence, since she was born here. She attended the Istituto d’Arte, Magistero, and studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. In the 1960s she held numerous exhibitions in Italy and internationally.

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At first glance, her paintings appear to be imaginary and fantasy-like scenes. However, Baratti Bon’s work has been described by Marco Fagioli, an art critic, as “emblematic of the very nature of daily life,” by “exemplifying the absurd lurking in it, the shadows that pervade it.”

I was impressed at how easily she could lift and move the large paintings around, as she searched through her many works to find ones she wanted to use to explain her style as an artist and painter. It became easy to tell which paintings were from which phase of hers as an artist by the colors and tonality. Her later works were light with colors such as blue, pink and yellow that faded into white. Her earlier paintings are very dark and fade into black. The complexity of these paintings is striking, with rooms that open one onto another endlessly. The more one looks, the more little details one finds in the painting, which makes them very interesting and captivating for the viewer, such as hidden musicians or the profile of a woman. Fagioli termed this as a “happy desolation;” the feeling one gets when observing her work.

In her earlier series, Theatres and Circus, which began in 1988, there is a strange yet magnificently beautiful combination of light and dark. Looking at these paintings is like walking into a brightly lit theatre lobby when the night outside from which you have emerged is pitch black.

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According to Fagioli, Baratti Bon’s paintings “reveal unmistakable antecedents in certain Italian Expressionist painters” such as Lorenzo Viani and Scipione. However, her more recent paintings portray a more “dream-like” quality, almost like hallucinations. These paintings also incorporate very intricate details that draw the viewer in and force them to look closely into images that appear at first to be simple, but are in fact quite complex.

After having the privilege to view the paintings in the studio with the brilliant artist herself, we settled down with what little space we had to do the interview, since both rooms were piled high with paintings and materials. I asked her how she thought art exhibitions such as this contribute to the overall theme of the festival, and she responded: “l’arte e’ una lingue universale.” Baratti Bon also believes that there is a special relationship between the Americans and Italians, because of the aid Italy received from the United States during World War II, which was much appreciated. She also rightly said that there are many Italians in America and many Americans in Italia, and this festival is an occasion to celebrate that.

I then asked Baratti Bon how she chose which paintings she wanted on display, and she answered that she wanted paintings that showed unity, so she selected a period of 20 years of work that she really liked and decided to go in that direction. Her favorite painting was proudly displayed on the wall of the studio; in fact it was one of the only paintings actually hanging up instead of stacked. It is a painting from the Circus series, and she likes it because it represents her world as a child, with a theatre and clowns all enclosed within endless connected rooms that resemble a dollhouse.

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Before I reluctantly left, Baratti Bon shared a beautiful experience of hers with me. While she was young, an American girl came to live with her and her family. This American girl did not speak any Italian before she came to Italy, but she was with a program in which the students stayed in hotels, in dorms, with families, and all over Italy so that they were exposed to as much vocabulary and different situations as they could be to learn the language. When she stayed with Baratti Bon, they could not communicate at first. But they did everything together, so little by little they began to teach each other Italian and English. By the time the American girl left Italy, she was very close to fluent in the language. To this day, Baratti Bon still remembers phrases in English and understands them when she hears a native speaker. This story is beautiful, and perfectly showcases why American presence in Florence can be positive. Cultural intermingling does not mean giving up or renouncing your origins, but learning from someone else through their perspective.

From the way Baratti Bon spoke with me, I could tell that she was excited to be a part of the festival, and happy to share her art with the community.

Click here for more information regarding Ornella Baratti Bon from the Studio Art Centers International Florence website:

http://www.saci-florence.edu/exhibition_details.php?id=217

Written by Emily Hayes, student at Fairfield University

A Tale of Two Cities: Florence and Rome from the Grand Tour to Study Abroad – Interview with Fabrizio Ricciardelli

Tuesday, February 23

 

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with Fabrizio Ricciardelli, the Director of Kent State University in Florence, to discuss A Tale of Two Cities: Florence and Rome from the Grand Tour to Study Abroad. Kent State is involved in a number of different events featured in the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival, but the conference on March 9 was of particular interest to my peers and me as young American students currently studying abroad in Florence.

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From the window of Ricciardelli’s office on Via Cavour, classic yellow Tuscan buildings layering together in medieval style give way to the magnificent dome of the Duomo, looming over the city as a symbol of the art, culture and history Florence has to offer. It was the perfect backdrop for a conversation on the presence of Americans, both tourists and students, in the city.

This is the first Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival, so I began by asking Ricciardelli what the inspiration was for the three-day event. He then shared some startling facts about the American presence in Florence. 9,000 foreign students travel to study in the capital of Tuscany every year, taking full advantage of over 50 programs currently available. Ricciardelli and other Florence study abroad program leaders wanted to encourage interaction between these programs, instead of remaining “50 islands that never work together.”

However, the main goal of the festival is to change the perception Florentines have of the American students who chose to live and learn in their city by emphasizing the good aspects of the study abroad programs and opening their doors to the community. The best way to do this is through the universal language of the arts.

Ricciardelli stated that study abroad programs were originally dedicated to the humanities, and where better in Italy to study music, art or literature than in the “cradle of the Renaissance.” Later on in what was called the “Grand Tour,” Florence was a necessary visit for young European gentlemen when they traveled to Italy and France in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries as a way of promoting the arts.

So why do so many American and British people travel to Florence and Rome? Ricciardelli thinks there is something “in the DNA of American people” that stirs them to travel to become global citizens, and to these two cities in particular. The majority of North Americans prefer to live in cities like Florence and Rome.

 

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There is something peculiarly biological about this journey. Florence has created its own step in the path of a typical life for Americans, almost as common as getting married or having children. It is true that Florence holds many important and magnificent works of art, such as Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Primavera. 14 million people visit the Uffizi Gallery every year. But there is something more there. It is a kind of myth that has been built up in the minds of Americans that Italy, and especially cities like Florence, Rome and Venice, are a paradise full of perfection in its beauty, nature and art. In Florence in particular, there is also the history and idea of democracy.

 

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However, Ricciardelli agreed that there are many different reasons American students chose to study abroad today, such as avoiding a semester in America, returning to family roots, or seizing the opportunity to grow as a person, which is why many of my peers chose to study here.

Upon returning to the current students traveling abroad, I decided to shift the topic to something that may contribute to the negative mindset some Florentines have towards Americans, which is the language barrier. Ricciardelli beautifully posited that “language is our main enemy as human beings,” because it creates a big limit in how we communicate with people who are different from us. Unfortunately, some American students assume that every local Italian speaks English, which is not necessarily true. For example, there is a difference between an Italian café owner being able to understand and respond when an American orders a cappuccino in English. But could she or he really converse in English?

As a professor with American students, Ricciardelli wants to create a perfect environment for them. He holds 10 public lectures and four conferences every year, but he gives them in English for his students. Therefore, not many locals attend even though they are open to the public. Yet because of his students, he can’t give them in Italian. The reoccurring problem for connecting people is always language.

Ricciardelli believes that the only solution is to homogenize the world, in order to create less violence and problems that result from language barriers. Unfortunately for Italians, the new Latin is English. While we were talking about the prevalence of the English language, I thought back to a dorm room in which there were several foreign students living together while studying abroad at Fairfield University. They were all from different countries, and spoke different native languages. Yet they could all communicate and converse with each other because they all spoke English fluently.

Anyone who is proficient in more than one language is incredibly lucky. In Brussels, the parliament is led in English, and use translators. But this process is expensive, so something must be done to demolish these barriers. A cultural project must occur, according to Ricciardelli, in which English movies are not dubbed in Italian, in order for children to be heavily exposed to the English language from a young age.

Ricciardelli stated that even though Italian is his native language, he has only ever published books in English. He went to England for his PhD after studying at the University of Florence. Although he is Italian and continues to live in Italy, his entire career was built through the English language. He laughed, “I love to be a refugee in the country in which I live.”

However, there are many students who choose to try to learn Italian before or during their time in Italy. Ricciardelli himself has family in Massachusetts, since his grandmother’s brothers fled to the United States during the fascist period. Their children and grandchildren speak perfect Italian and English, but not because they grew up speaking both. They chose to learn it on their own.

 

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Therefore, the cultures are combinable. It is possible, and the Tuscan AngloAmerican Festival in Florence aims to help further the cultural distribution to create understanding between the Florentine people and the many Americans that chose to live in their home every year. An attraction between the cultures is inspired through these events, and younger generations can develop opportunities in the future for a more global perspective.

Ricciardelli emphasized that is it an opportunity for both Americans and Italians to share their roots, not to renounce or give up their roots or language. This is an important and common misconception that stems from the prominence of the English language and American presence in Florence.